Having reached the semi-finals as hosts in 2012, Mato Stanković's Croatia have shown that was no fluke by getting through qualification in the next two editions.
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Croatia had been absent from the UEFA European Futsal Championship finals since 2001 but, chosen as hosts for the 2012 event, they were presented with the opportunity of an eye-catching return.
Respected coach Mato Stanković came home in summer 2010 to revive the team and oversaw positive performances that November when they went to Libya and won the inaugural Mediterranean Cup, beating the hosts on penalties. By the time of UEFA Futsal EURO 2012, they were able to capture the public imagination by progressing to the semi-finals, where they lost 4-2 to Russia in front of a 14,300 crowd in Zagreb. It was the third occasion in a week they had broken the tournament attendance record.
Still coached by Stanković and inspired by 2012 adidas Silver Boot winner Dario Marinović, Croatia qualified for the 2014 tournament and proceeded to reach the quarter-finals.
5 February: v Kazakhstan, 18.30 (head to head P1 W1 D0 L0 F5 A1)
7 February: v Russia, 18.30 (head to head P7 W0 D2 L5 F9 A21)
- Key facts
Best performance: Fourth place (2012)
Qualifying top scorer: Dario Marinović 5
Playes to watch: Ivo Jukić (goalkeeper), Dario Marinović, Tihomir Novak
- Three questions: Mato Stanković, coach
What do you think of your two opponents in Group C?
We didn't have any luck in the draw, it is an extremely difficult group. We wanted to avoid Kazakhstan but we didn't We all know what Russia have done in this sport of late. The European club champions [Kairat Almaty] come from Kazakhstan, they have lots of players in the national team. Kazakhstan play a lot with a flying goalkeeper and it will be very tough against them. That said, we were unlucky with the last EURO draw and yet we held Spain 3-3 [and went through ahead of the Czech Republic], so we know we can compete with anyone.
You provided so much excitement last time in Belgium – can you do so again this time?
We were in the quarter-finals two years ago and only lost 2-1 to eventual champions Italy. We showed our strength with a draw against Spain, so I can say we were successful. I don't want to promise anything spectacular – we'll do our best.
How big a relief was it to get the qualifying winner against Slovakia after almost throwing it away?
There are maybe three or four teams at the really top level, but there are various others who can beat anyone at any time and Slovakia are in this category. It was a tough match against them in Dubrovnik, as expected, but I think we deserved to finish top of the group and qualify directly for the EURO for the first time in 16 years.